• elderly;
  • posture;
  • kyphosis;
  • disability;
  • osteoporosis

Objectives: To investigate the relationships between the severity of flexed posture (FP), skeletal fragility, and functional status level in elderly women.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: Geriatric rehabilitation research hospital.

Participants: Sixty elderly women (aged 70–93) with FP referred to a geriatric rehabilitation department for chronic back pain without apparent comorbid conditions.

Measurements: Multidimensional clinical assessment included the severity of FP (standing occiput-to-wall distance) demographic (age) and anthropometric (height, weight) data, clinical profile (number of falls, pain assessment, Mini-Mental State Examination, Comorbidity Severity Index, Geriatric Depression Scale, Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory), measures of skeletal fragility (number of vertebral fractures by spine radiograph, bone mineral density (BMD), and T-score of lumbar spine and proximal femur), muscular impairment assessment (muscle strength and length), motor performance (Short Physical Performance Battery, Performance Oriented Mobility Assessment, instrumented gait analysis), and evaluation of disability (Barthel Index, Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living Index).

Results: The severity of FP was classified as mild in 11, moderate in 28, and severe in 21 patients. Although there were no differences between FP groups on the skeletal fragility measurements, the moderate and severe FP groups were significantly different from the mild FP group for greater pain at the level of the cervical and lumbar spine. The severe FP group was also significantly different from the mild but not the moderate FP group in the following categories: clinical profile (greater depression, reduced motivation), muscle impairment (weaker spine extensor, ankle plantarflexor, and dorsiflexor muscles; shorter pectoralis and hip flexor muscles), the motor function performance-based tests (lower scores in the balance and gait subsets of the Performance Oriented Mobility Assessment), the instrumented gait analysis (slower and wider base of support), and disability (lower score on the Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living Index). The total number of vertebral fractures was not associated with differences in severity of FP, demographic and anthropometric characteristics, clinical profile, muscular function, performance-based and instrumental measures of motor function, and disability, but it was associated with reduced proximal femur and lumbar spine BMD.

Conclusion: The severity of FP in elderly female patients (without apparent comorbid conditions) is related to the severity of vertebral pain, emotional status, muscular impairments, and motor function but not to osteoporosis, and FP has a measurable effect on disability. In contrast, the presence of vertebral fractures in patients with FP is associated with lower BMD but not patients' clinical and functional status. Therefore, FP, back pain, and mobility problems can occur without osteoporosis. Older women with FP and vertebral pain may be candidates for rehabilitation interventions that address muscular impairments, posture, and behavior modification. Randomized controlled trials are needed to support these conclusions.